Stirling, Balbirnie Stars As Ireland, The Level Of The Series > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Stirling, Balbirnie star as Ireland level series

Andrew Balbirnie made 68 in Ireland's win. Credit - Cricket Ireland

Riding on the back of half-century knocks from Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie, Ireland completed a comprehensive five-wicket win against Afghanistan in the fifth and final ODI to level the series at 2-2. Having reduced Afghanistan to 50 for 4 at one stage Ireland bowlers then let it slip a bit and allowed the hosts to post a healthy 216/6. However, the Irish batsmen showed good application, on a pitch turning square, to chase down the target with 16 balls to spare.

Asked to bat first, Mohammad Shehzad got Afghanistan off the mark with a six but that was that from the explosive batsman who was dismissed off the fourth ball of the first over. Afghanistan's struggles at the top of the order continued yet again as the hosts were quickly reduced to 50 for 4, with George Dockrell claiming the wickets of Rahmat Shah and Samiullah Shenwari off successive balls in the 15th over.

However, skipper Asghar Afghan then dropped anchor and in the company of Mohammad Nabi, stitched a 76-run partnership to ensure it's not all doom and gloom. The immediate task was to consolidate and the pair seemed in no hurry to get the runs flowing. At one point, No.6 Nabi had comfortably overtaken his captain's individual score until Afghan hit James Cameron for a four and six in the 26th over to end a six-over boundary drought and catch up with the all-rounder.

Afghan was dropped twice in his 30s - on 32 off Simi Singh in the 34th over and on 39 off Cameron in the 39th over - but, in the meanwhile, the Irish off-spinner struck in his succeeding over to take out Nabi after a heard-earned 40 off 70 balls. Cameron too didn't have to wait long to taste success as he dismissed Najibullah for a 14-ball 7 to reduce the hosts to 143 for 6 at the end of 41 overs.

Asghar brought up his 11th ODI fifty soon after but the show was stolen by Rashid who played a vital cameo of 35 not out off just 28 deliveries that included two sixes. Asghar too inflicted some damage - in Simi Singh's comeback over where he hit three boundaries - but retired hurt in the final over on 82. Nevertheless, the 65-run stand propelled the team's score over 200, giving their spin-heavy attack a good chance of locking the series.

Ireland's batters, though, came out with other plans. The bowling might have let them down a bit, especially in the death overs, but the in-form Balbirnie put on two crucial partnerships to ace Afghanistan's spin test and ensure against a collapse.

Stirling was the dominant partner in Ireland's opening wicket partnership worth 57, where skipper William Porterfield chipped in with only 17 off 41. Chinaman bowler Zahi Khan got Afghanistan the much-needed breakthrough - in his very frst over of the night - but that paved way for an 81-run alliance between Stirling and Balbirnie to ensure against a collapse. While Stirling was particularly good in rotating the strike, Balbirnie kept the rare boundary coming.

Stirling raised his half-century off 60 deliveries before taking Ireland over the 100-run mark in the chase on the first ball of the 23rd over. The right-hander then started to aim for big shots - and even hit Nabi for a six - but was trapped lbw by Rashid Khan soon after as Afghanistan finally managed to break the dangerous partnership.

However, the in-form Balbirnie had settled in well by then and went on to raise his half-century off 68 balls in the 36th over. His partnership with Simi Singh was short-lived - Zahir picking up his second wicket - but Kevin O'Brien gave him company for the fourth-wicket partnership worth 46 to nearly seal the fate of the game. Afghanistan did manage a couple of consolation wickets. Balbirnie fell to Mujeeb when Ireland were just 10 runs away from victory, and Nabi sent back Dockrell cheaply when the visitors needed two. However, new batsman Stuart Poynter hit a four off the first ball to finish the formalities.

Brief scores: Afghanistan 216/6 in 50 overs (Asghar Afghan 82, Mohammad Nabi 40, Rashid Khan 35*; George Dockrell 2-46) lost to Ireland 219/5 in 47.2 overs (Paul Stirling 70, Andrew Balbirnie 68; Mujeeb ur Rahman 2-55) by five wickets.

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